The Christmas Spirit (Even in Summertime)

Bob RoaneJesus Christ, Service, Theology

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
(Mark 10:45)

This builds upon our previous post. You can read Jesus the Suffering Servant

In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer echoes Scripture’s teaching that Christ-like service is essential to our walk with Jesus. He reminds me of a quote by J. Gresham Machen:

Jesus is a Brother to us as well as a Savior, an elder Brother whose steps we must follow. The imitation of Jesus has a fundamental place in Christian life. He is our supreme and only perfect Example.1

Note: When I wrote this J. I. Packer (1926–2020) was still living. He died on July 17, 2020 and went home to be with the Christ he knew, loved, and served so well. Packer was promoted to glory. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116:15)

Jesus’ Self-Emptying and the Christmas Spirit

Packer reminds us that the eternal Son of God emptied Himself (kenosis in Greek), by taking the form of a bond-servant. Nothing of His deity was subtracted and Christ did not become “less” divine when He added on human nature. Jesus was still God during all His earthly ministry, but He willingly deprived Himself of some of His privileges. Christ became the Suffering Servant, prophesied by Isaiah, who came to lay down His life on the cross for His friends, His followers, His believers from every tribe, language, people, and nation.2 Christ is the Savior of the world!

Jesus’ sacrifice for us and His Holy Spirit in us compel Christians to imitate our Lord in sacrificial service to others. Christ died for us, so that believers should no longer live for ourselves but for Jesus who died for us and was raised again.3 This is what Packer calls the “Christmas spirit.” He reminds us that Jesus-like humble service is to be the hallmark of every Christ-follower all year round.

Caring for a Broader Circle of People

Packer is tough on us in this chapter, but I think he is exactly right. He warns us that following Jesus is more than building nice middle-class Christian homes, making nice middle-class friends, and bringing up children in nice middle-class ways. He warns us, based on Scripture, not to leave underprivileged and downtrodden people, Christian and non-Christian, to fend for themselves. Christ says that He will judge us severely on the Last Day for ignoring needy people.4 Packer warns us not to be Christian snobs, but to imitate Jesus our Master, making ourselves poor, depriving ourselves, to bless others.

Those who knew Packer say that he practiced what he preached. He was eager and willing spend himself and be spent to enrich a wide spectrum of people, not just his friends. Leland Ryken reports that despite Packer’s celebrity status, he was generous about giving himself to people and projects in ways that were invisible to the public. No audience was too small for Packer and he gladly met with teenagers in living rooms to teach them about Christ and answer their questions.5

In the 1980s I took a class with Packer in Philadelphia. I was a young pastor, serving a small congregation, and Packer was eager to give wise counsel during the week he was in town to help me care for the souls of God’s people. Forty years later, his advice (from that class and his books) is still helping me to serve new people and guide them in concrete Christ-like living.

Jesus’ Command

Christ calls us to give time, trouble, care, and concern to others, carrying each other’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ.6 We are to help others in whatever ways they need us. The Lord says: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”7

Surely Christ-like service is vital to our walk with Jesus. Too many Christians are ready assert their rights without being ready to assume their responsibilities to Jesus. (Vance Havner)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you have shown us that in Christ goodness means acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. Christ was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor to enrich us. Send your Holy Spirit to work in us so that we think and act the way our Lord and Savior thought and acted. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.8

To be continued

Notes (various translations): 1 Christianity & Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen, p. 93.     2 John 15:13; Rev 5:9.     3 2 Cor 5:14-15.     4 Matt 25:31-46.     5 Things You Should Know about J. I. Packer.     6 Gal 6:2.     7 Gal 6:10.     8 Prayer alludes to Micah 6:8; 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:5.